One of the great pleasures of ATP is that there is so much to the event apart from the world-beating lineup. Those who rocked too hard to The Stooges the night before missed the chance for a casual game of baseball in the A.M. organized by Bob Weston of Shellac. As the dedicated lugged their equipment to a field across from Kutsher’s, Thurston Moore and Jim Jarmusch sat down in the Sportsman Bar for a casual chat about, well, anything you’d like to hear them talk about. Criterion had set up a question box and any attendee could fill out a form and submit a topic for the two downtown legends to discuss. During a wide-ranging chat the pair covered topics ranging from the ridiculous (hummus?) to the sublime (Jarmusch relating a story about two junkies discussing the films Dennis Hopper made as a director). The discussion sent a signal early on that Jarmusch was totally involved in the event and having a great time in the process.
As the Jim and Thurston summit was winding down, Sian Alice Group were first up on the main stage with the help of John Coxon, a frequent Spiritualized collaborator, on bass while across the way ATP Records artists Apse kicked off stage two, their lead singer generating a divisive audience response with histrionics evoking an Ian Curtis epileptic fit. Beak>, a new band from Geoff Barrow of Portishead, played a surprisingly early slot on the main stage. The trio’s lineup was filled out by Matt Williams and Billy Fuller, with the members rotating among their various instruments between songs. Despite the inevitable side project tag given Barrow’s high-profile main gig, Beak> delivered a captivating set of polished groove-oriented pieces that left no doubt that they were true collaborator’s with a distinctive vision, and also gave notice that Barrow’s record collection was no doubt filled with classic Krautrock and plenty of Peter Hook LPs.
Over on stage two, despite being allotted an extended between-set preparation time, the doors were not open for Text of Light, but the music and film projection started as soon as they were and a small crowd rushed inside to be greeted by a wall of noise, as Lee Ranaldo and Alan Licht on guitar and electronics were joined by the punishing saxophone of Ulrich Kreiger. Text of Light performs improvised music to the works of experimental film luminaries like Stan Brakhage and Harry Smith. Musically, their performance had much to offer the patient, after a time of intense focus the wall of sound revealing itself as a sophisticated amalgam of guitar and saxophone passages. However, the same could not be said for the visual presentation, as the projection was unfortunately, and unintentionally, letterboxed by crowd shadows on the bottom and the low-hanging ceiling on top.
Over at the main stage, Fuck Buttons were plying their brand of fashion noise, the appeal of which eludes me, and the set’s sheer volume failed to make up for their tepid compositions. I wanted to make sure to get a good spot for Fursaxa on the second stage and I’m glad I did, as the group – principal Tara Burke joined by Helena Espvall of Espers on cello and Mary Lattimore (recently seen on tour with Kurt Vile) on harp – conjured an absolutely hypnotic set of looped vocals, delicately played string embellishments and ethereal drones. Tortoise had already started on the main stage and were playing in a configuration consistent with their recent touring around Beacons of Ancestorship, although a highlight of the set was the older classic “Glass Museum,” a nod to the group’s long history with ATP (they’ve curated a U.K. ATP in the past, as well as playing the first ATP held at Kutsher’s in 2008).
Next up on the main stage was Hallogallo 2010, consisting of Michael Rother of Neu! and Harmonia on guitar, Steve Shelley on drums (Shelley was pulling double duty, appearing later during Sonic Youth’s devastating headlining slot) and Aaron Mullan on bass. Hallogallo was formed to play living tribute to the music of Neu!, the legendary 1970s krautrock duo of Rother and drummer Klaus Dinger. Dinger passed away in 2008, but Rother decided to form a new band to keep the spirit and music of Neu! alive. Hallogallo is no stale tribute act and their rousing set, propelled by the superhuman percussion work of Shelley, was a joyful, head-bopping miracle. Like Sleep the night before, the prospect of hearing Neu! material live was something that many attendees had probably hoped for but couldn’t imagine actually seeing. The transporting groove of the band was helped along by the fantastically precise playing of Mullan, but it was ultimately the inimitable guitar sound of Rother that, despite being mixed at a slightly low volume, was the star of the show.
Shellac, jokingly referred to as the ATP house band due to their guaranteed appearance at most ATP events hit the main stage next. The group was on fire for much of the set, with Steve Albini calling out Dr. Laura, Studs Terkel and Jimmy Piersall, in one spoken word passage during “The End of Radio.” Saturday’s main stage bill was so top heavy, however, that Shellac were only allotted 45 minutes, but they used it to its fullest capacity foregoing the traditional question time. The foreshortened set time did seem to cause a few brief flare-ups of out-of-sync rhythms between bassist Bob Weston and drummer Todd Trainer, but most of the crowd didn’t seem to notice or care. Each year, Shellac is the best band at ATP merely by showing up.
Dave Pajo’s guitar playing has graced some of the most revered independent rock records of the last twenty years, such as Slint’s Spiderland and Tortoise’s TNT, yet he has also toured with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and, more recently, Interpol. Given this rather inexplicable pedigree, and considering his last solo release was a generally ignored but rather entrancing LP of lo-fi acoustic reinterpretations of Misfits songs, it was anyone’s guess what kind of set Pajo would play. He won the night with a combination of audacity and virtuosity, delivering a mind-expanding set of slowly unfurling minimalist guitar pieces, leaving the second stage audience yearning for more.
Back on the main stage, The Breeders ambled through a career-spanning set of classics including “Divine Hammer” and “Last Splash.” The giddy energy of the electrified set was a nice contrast to a brief, impromptu acoustic performance the group had played to an audience of about fifty while seated on couches in Kutsher’s Piano Lounge earlier in the day. Another ATP veteran is Texas’ Explosions In The Sky (the state flag traditional draped over a guitar amplifier, in case you were unsure of their provenance) and they plied their softLOUDsoft dynamics to the delight of the crowd, who bought an all-day pass for this sonic rollercoaster.
Finally, Sonic Youth took the stage after midnight to a packed Stardust Ballroom. With Mark Ibold off touring the world with a reunited Pavement, the group is back to their core four piece lineup. This paring back to the basics has also informed current setlists, zeroing in on the band’s celebrated 80s material. Explosive performances of “The Wonder,” “Hey Joni” and particularly “Catholic Block” sent an already aggressive mosh pit on the floor into overdrive (so aggressive that some people insisted on crowd surfing to quieter material such as “Shadow of a Doubt”). Sonic Youth closed out the night with “White Cross” although there was buzz that “Expressway To Yr Skull” was the intended finale, but wasn’t played due to time constraints. It seemed beside the point, however, and between Shelley’s work with Hallogallo, Lee’s playing with Text of Light and Thurston’s highly visibly presence throughout the day, Sonic Youth defined much of Saturday at ATP and proved that despite their age and Kim and Thurston having moved out of the city, they are the embodiment NYC art rock cool for all time.